Choosing and cooking your Christmas turkey

Everything you need to know about buying and cooking the centrepiece of your Christmas dinner.

Let’s talk turkey! This year, serve up the roast turkey of your dreams…

When to buy your Christmas turkey

How soon you should order your turkey depends where you do your shopping (see below). Think about where you’re going to store it once you’ve brought it home, and ideally leave it as close to Christmas as you can to collect it.

  • Local butchers often take orders many weeks in advance. Pop in now, to find out what the cut-off date is.
  • Most supermarkets will take orders up to two weeks before Christmas and will have already posted ‘last turkey order’ dates on their websites.
  • If you’re not a super-organised domestic goddess, don’t worry, you can leave buying your turkey until closer to the day, though you might not have a full range of options to choose from.

TIP If you buy frozen turkey, don’t then spend another couple of hours shopping – get it home and put it in the freezer as soon as possible.

What to buy

A big, golden roasted turkey does make the Christmas table look fabulous, but it’s not always easy to prep and cook a huge bird. Plus it’s not cheap, so if something smaller suits you, don’t feel a duty to shop big!

  • Think about how many people you’re cooking for and on average, allow about 0.5kg per person and buy a bird that suits that number. Don’t forget that children will eat less.
  • A roast turkey crown can be a brilliant alternative to a whole bird.
    Cheaper, quicker to cook and available in a variety of weights to suit up to eight or so diners. Easy-carve, boneless joints and other turkey options are also worth considering.
  • Buying your turkey ‘in a bag’ is the easiest way to avoid the risk of raw meat contamination and to ensure it cooks without losing too much moisture.

TIP If you do choose a 9kg whopper, check you have room in your oven for it and anything else that needs roasting at the same time. You could remove and cook the drumsticks separately if that helps.

Storing and preparing your turkey

These days every celeb chef in the land has a different take on how to cook your turkey. Choose a recipe to suit your tastes and you never know, your turkey might just be the best dressed guest on Christmas Day!

  • Store fresh uncooked turkey covered or in its original packaging, at the bottom of the fridge, on a plate or tray to avoid drips.
  • If you are defrosting your turkey, do this in the fridge and allow up to two days for bigger birds. Even when the middle of the bird is still frozen, bacteria in outer layers can start to multiply if left to defrost at room temperature.
  • Don’t be tempted to wash your turkey (or any raw poultry). Bacteria will be killed if you cook the meat thoroughly, but washing raw turkey can spread germs around your sink and worktops.

TIP Many chefs recommend you take the turkey out of the fridge about an hour before you want to roast it but opinion varies, so follow the instructions that came with your bird.

Cooking your turkey

Generally, roasting more slowly on a lower heat tends to get the best results: about 190°C (180°C fan-assisted), covering it with foil and removing it for the last 30-40 minutes to allow the skin to brown.

  • Stick to the instructions that came with your turkey if there were any.
  • Otherwise, on average allow about 20 minutes roasting time per kg
    PLUS an additional 70 minutes for turkeys weighing up to 4kg, and an additional 90 minutes for turkeys weighing 4kg or more. Baste the turkey, spooning over the juices every 30 minutes or so.
  • Poultry should ALWAYS be cooked through fully. To check your roast is ready, stick a skewer into deepest part of thigh or breast. If the juices run pinkish, put it back in the oven for longer. If the juices run clear, it’s ready.

TIP Check that your oven is cooking at the temperature the dial says. Often older ovens aren’t! This is easy to check with an oven thermometer and if necessary you can then adjust your cooking time accordingly.


Cooking the stuffing in a separate dish in the oven is the most reliable way to cook it all safely through, but if you do want to add the stuffing to the bird only add the stuffing just before you’re going to cook the bird, not the night before.


Once it’s fully cooked, allow the turkey to stand, covered loosely with foil, for 30-40 minutes before carving. Then use a sharp knife to cut into the skin between the leg and the breast. Do this on both sides and with the wings. This makes it easier to carve the breast meat.


Allow the meat to cool then cover and put in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Use leftovers within two days and if you reheat the meat, ensure it’s steaming hot before eating. You should only reheat it once so it’s a good idea to just cook what you want, as you go. To freeze, take the meat off the bone first. Use it within a month. Ease the pressure on the big day and check out our tips for Get ahead Christmas cooking.